Four Air National Guard wings are set to receive new transport aircraft as part of a yearslong effort to modernize the service’s C-130H Hercules fleet.
The Air Force announced Thursday it has tentatively chosen the 103rd Airlift Wing in Connecticut, the 120th AW in Montana, the 133rd AW in Minnesota and the 182nd AW in Illinois to replace their aging C-130Hs with newer C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.
The H-model aircraft debuted in 1974, followed by J-models in 1999. Recent congressional spending packages have allowed the Air National Guard to buy 32 new C-130Js to catch up to the active duty force, which has already retired the C-130H.
“C-130 aircraft are critical assets that our Minnesota Air National Guard use to transport cargo and passengers, whether it is in support of missions abroad or offering support here at home during times of floods, hurricanes and other emergencies,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said in a release. “These upgrades will help ensure our [Guardsmen] are equipped to answer the call to serve our state and country.”
Each wing will get eight C-130Js, the Air Force said, though it’s unclear when they may start to arrive.
The Super Hercules, built by Lockheed Martin, can fly farther and faster than earlier variants and offers more cargo space, among other efficiencies. C-130Js can lift up to 128 combat troops or 92 paratroopers — about 30 more people than can ride on a C-130H — and as many as eight pallets of equipment, according to the Air Force.
It also requires a three-airman crew — two fewer than on the H-model.
As each base brings on the C-130J, pilots and loadmasters must return to training to learn the unique aspects of working aboard the newer turboprop planes, the Air Force said. Airmen whose jobs are eliminated as a result of the transition will be moved into other roles.
To move forward, the four locations must first pass an environmental inspection that considers whether the bases can handle the workforce, noise, pollution and other factors that come with a new fleet. The studies are slated to finish in fiscal 2025.
Four other wings were considered for the upgrades based on their unit performance, existing facilities and environmental considerations.
Ten Guard wings, including the four announced this week, are already flying or plan to receive C-130Js. That leaves five other wings that will continue to use the older H-model planes until further notice.
“I am so proud of our airmen and how they have performed in the C-130 mission since 2013,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Hronek, head of the Montana National Guard, said in a release. “Through their dedication to mission accomplishment, success during deployments and outstanding inspection results, they have shown the Air Force and Air National Guard they are deserving of the C-130Js to proudly defend our nation and state.”
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.